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Breaking the Mould: How Superdry’s Succeeding by Doing its Own Thing
March 27, 2018
7 min read
As high streets struggle to keep revenues healthy, one store is defying market trends and reporting strong growth across the board. What is Superdry getting so right?
It’s a tough gig at the moment for fashion retailers. The high street is a place where competition is fierce and, increasingly, footfall is on the decline. Bastions of retail are seeing their profits tumble, and customers are seeing shop closures as a result. New Look, Moss Bros, House of Fraser, Debenhams and even UK’s favourite brand of 2017, Marks & Spencers, are all struggling.
What is it that they’re getting so right with customers?
Their first store to trade under the Superdry name opened in Covent Garden in 2004. Despite a London beginning, Americana styling, and a Japanese logo, the brand in fact originates from Cheltenham.
From its founding days, then, Superdry has been breaking the mould. It’s a mashup of sportswear, high-street appeal, and designer quality. With a unisex feel, and a host of unlikely celebrity endorsers, Superdry isn’t quite sure what it is, but that’s perhaps its greatest strength.
Even their name is a hybrid. The Japanese script across the top may have fooled many consumers into believing the brand to be excitingly exotic, but in fact the characters are nonsensical. There’s no literal translation from Japanese, and even very loosely translated it only means “maximum dry, (do)”.
It’s a cavalier approach; a deconstructing of the usual. A look at how the company works shows that their strategy follows the same design.
Superdry are renegades in how they choose to sell. Like all great brands, they follow not market trends, but what consumers are asking for. In an interview with Marketing Week, Superdry’s first CMO, Simon Lloyd was keen to stress the impact the consumer has on the business: “A lot of what we do is looking at what influencers there are amongst our consumers and listening to the customer day in and day out. We have not built this global brand through traditional media – it’s been from the ground up.”
As such, it’s unsurprising that when Lloyd spoke of launching in India, he said they planned to be mobile first. This emphasis on what works for the customer (over a quarter of Superdry’s total revenue is generated online and it’s estimated that by 2020, £43 billion of online purchases in the UK will be made on a smart phone) demonstrates a flexibility that counts for a lot. Retailers more attached to the traditional high-street presence are seeing rents soar, and decreasing numbers of customers wanting to shop in person.
In addition, Lloyd tries to keep focus on the Superdry website in every bit of marketing he devises. Every piece of content they create—be it an advertisement or an event—has, he says, the sole focus of driving people back to the website.
And though the company has had the advantage of growing up in the digital age (unlike many of its more-established competitors), they still offer the option of doing things the old way. Like their English-Japanese logo, Lloyd’s view of the way e-commerce and brick-and-mortar stores have to work, is a fusion.
This desire to connect with people extends into their business model too. The co-founders announced a scheme in September whereby a fifth of the share price gains will be shared across a bonus scheme with the brand’s 4,500 employees. It incentivises hard work, as well as promoting the entrepreneurial spirit that keeps the brand fresh.
The Superdry offering also strives to keep things simple. Its clothing is unfussy; they don’t have a strapline. Despite having thousands of products, they focus on being known for three key lines: the jacket, the hoodie and the T-shirt. None of them are confusing—there’s no attempt to redefine fashion (remember when Burberry decided that blankets were the new coats?)—rather, they are all remarkably basic.
This winter’s campaign—THIS IS THE JACKET—is simplicity defined. The name of the advert tells you it will be selling a jacket; it shows you the jacket over and over again; and it’s backed by a song about the jacket.
And again, the board are keen to keep the business itself in line with the image they present. In January of this year, they decided to ditch their corporate name—SuperGroup—and strip it back to what everyone knows them for: Superdry.
When ‘authenticity’ is the watchword for so many consumer brands, it’s clear that actions speak louder than words, and this is another reason Superdry stand out.
Tapping into the success of sports
In both our Sports Brand Index and our Fashion Brand Index, brands blurring the line between activewear and fashion performed very well. Nike was the most named sports brand, and much of its appeal came from customer perception that, as well as offering technical precision, its clothes were stylish and on-trend. This sense that Nike straddles the line between sport and fashion was confirmed when they claimed the second spot in our Fashion Brand Index: there’s obviously a huge appetite amongst consumers to see fashionable sportswear, and sporty fashion.
Superdry are following Nike’s footsteps in reverse: a fashion brand that is positioning itself increasingly as a go-to brand for sportswear.
They kicked things off in 2014 with the launch of Superdry Snow, when they brought their signature style to winter sports clothing. Little by little they have been encroaching on the territory of mountain-apparel giants with shops opening in resorts across the Alps, selling jackets at a tenth of the price of a Moncler.
It signalled the beginning of a move towards becoming a sports brand more generally. Four years later, and they seem more set on this path than ever. Their website now features ‘Sport’ in its header bar next to ‘Men’ and ‘Women’ as a section in its own right. They have signed a deal to provide the full kit for every athlete at the Invictus Games next year. And they are set to take Nike and Adidas head on by launching sportswear-only, ‘Superdry Sport’ shops.
Superdry are innovating based on what they’re seeing their customers do, and ask for. This consumer focus is precisely the reason they topped our Brand Index table when it came to Purchase Intent.
Watching what’s working, and being swayed only by consumer desire, rather than expectations or market trends, means that they’re expanding in unusual ways. It’s this flexibility, and this consistent attention to their customers, that is helping them buck the trend and grow where other retailers are flagging.
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